LOCAL FAMILIES TAKE A FUNKY TWIST ON HOLIDAY FESTIVITIES

By Jared Fiel

Like your Uncle Bill snoring in front of the TV after the big meal, every family has traditions around the holidays.

Some of those traditions are ones shared by cultures over hundreds of years, but then there are those traditions that are unique to some quirky and fun-loving families.

Jenny Harding shows off one of her holiday sweaters from her decade-long tradition.

Todd Harding put together a holiday sweater using a toilet seat cover

Take Jenny Harding of Fort Collins, for example. For her, the holidays start on Dec. 1. On that day, and every day in December, she wears a different holiday sweater or shirt. The tradition started for her about a decade ago when she was inspired by a family friend, Aleta, who used to do it.

“I just love Christmas, and, in the beginning, my mom and I would make different sweaters and shirts,” she says. “And it always makes people smile. Now I get most of them on sale at Walmart, and I limit myself to just one new one every year.”

There is some dispute in the Harding household about how many sweaters she owns and exactly how many tubs it takes to hold them. Her husband, Todd, says she has 80 in various tubs. Jenny says it is more like 50, and they are all in one tub.

Through December, Jenny makes sure she doesn’t repeat any outfit by posting each one online every day. Her co-workers often come by her cubicle to see what she is wearing each day. “I have yet to come across an ugly sweater,” she says. “They all make me happy.”

For Jamie Heveron of Fort Collins, her family’s holiday tradition also makes many others happy.

About 10 years ago, her family came up with the idea of hosting a Christmas Eve brunch for family and friends. The original idea was to enjoy time with friends and have activities during the day so the pumped-up kids would go to sleep at night and Santa could visit.

“We always wanted to hang with friends on Christmas Eve, but it never worked out because of church, family or other traditions,” she says. “I thought if we did something in the day, we could get together with friends, then they could go do family stuff at night.”

Kids participate in “The Price is Right” during Jaime Heveron’s Christmas Eve brunch.

Activities for the kids have included a version of “The Price is Right.” Activities for the adults includes lots of good food and mimosas. The event has grown from 20 folks to more than 80. “Some people I see often, and some I see once a year, but it has become a tradition with many,” she says.

Many of these “new” family traditions have also grown out of trying to tire out the kids.

Brian Gary of Greeley remembers as a kid when his family would finish the Christmas Eve meal, he and the other kids would start bugging the adults to open gifts. That was when his parents banished the kids to the basement and told them they had to come up with a “show” for the adults before any presents could be opened.

“It is brilliant. Gives the adults time to do dishes,” he says.

When he was younger, Gary remembers putting his cousin in a large box so he could be Baby Jesus and even doing fake TV newscasts. “I kept all of this going with my kids and especially my four grandkids,” says Gary, who is famous in Northern Colorado for his local radio show on 1310 KFKA and his induction into the country radio Hall of Fame in 2017, along with other awards during his 30 years at K99, many spent with his co-host and fellow hall of famer Todd Harding.

“I was trained at an early age for this. I’m still creating shows, but I haven’t put a kid in a box in a long time.”

GAME TIME

he Wehrwein family enjoying their Reindeer Games together during the holidays.

Take the competitive spirit of the Olympics and combine that with the sugarplum excitement of kids around Christmas and you have what Longmont’s Natalie Wehrwein’s family calls Reindeer Games.

Natalie’s mom created a series of timed games that everyone must do. Scores are given for every round, and the person with the most points wins the coveted Christmas cape and crown to wear for the next year. Her games include:

  • Throwing marshmallows through a wreath
  • Placing boxes of jingle bells in order from most to least
  • Putting Vaseline on your nose and seeing how many poofy balls you can get in a bowl
  • Using candy canes to stack“snowmen” out of three nuts

“I love my weird family,” she says.

Anne Poulson shows off some of her Mystery Gifts over the years.

A different kind of competition takes place for the family of Anne Poulson of Fort Collins. This one is called Mystery Gift and was started by Anne’s mother, Karen, about a decade ago.

All year long, Karen would scour stores for gadgets or tools. The items are placed in a bag and pulled out one at a time. Each member of the family then has to determine what the item is actually used for.

The one who can figure it out gets to keep it. Anne has a collection that includes a chopstick holder, a strawberry de-stemmer, an egg timer and other items she can’t even remember what they were used for from past holidays.

“We are a competitive family,” she says. “And some of the things really work. Some of them we tried with varying levels of success.”

FOR ADULTS ONLY

While a lot of these strange traditions focus on the kids, there are a few that are only for the older folks.

Wehrwein says that after all the younger kids are asleep with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads, the older folks have a tradition of reading aloud a funny but very crass essay by David Sedaris called “Dina, the Christmas Whore.”

And not to be out-done, Fort Collins’ Heather Clift and her family have an even stranger Christmas morning routine.

“It all started in 2008 when we were living in Breckenridge,” she says. Her extended family were all in town and on Christmas morning they decided to walk around downtown when, around 10 a.m. they got to the Gold Pan Bar, which is one of the oldest bars in Colorado and, just by the fact that it was open at 10 a.m. on Christmas morning, a little “divey.

The parents bellied up to the empty bar. When asked what they wanted, Heather’s husband Paul replied, “Well, it’s Christmas so we should have a Three Wise Men.” (For the uninitiated, this is a drink comprised of a shot each of Jose Cuervo, Jim Beam and Jack Daniels.)

Every year since that time, no matter where they are, all the adults have to drink a Three Wise Men before anyone can open any presents.

“It’s a horrible drink, but it definitely wakes you up,” she says. “We usually have to wash it down with a Bloody Mary. Nothing like drinking the Christmas spirit!”

Traditional Traditions: Where Did They Come From?

We have been carrying on so many of the “traditional” traditions around the holidays for so long, it’s hard to determine where some of them came from. Here is the history of some of the most well-known holiday traditions.

CHRISTMAS TREES – Decorated trees date back to Germany in the Middle Ages, with German and other European settlers popularizing Christmas trees in America by the early 19th century, according to the History Channel online.

CANDY CANES – This one seems to be in some dispute with some saying in 1670 a German choirmaster gave sugar sticks to young singers to keep them quiet during the long service and bent the sticks to look like shepherds’ crooks. Another story says it started in Ohio and another in Indiana. Apparently, the peppermint flavor was added around the 1900s.

DOOR WREATHS – The New York Times says wreaths have been around since the ancient Greek and Roman times, but the evergreen Christmas wreath, with boughs of holly, eventually took on Christian meaning, with the circular shape representing eternal life and the holly leaves and berries symbolic of Christ’s crown of thorns and blood.

CHRISTMAS CARDS – History.com says the first official Christmas card came out in 1843 in England with the simple message, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.” The company that would eventually be Hallmark came out with the folded card and envelope in 1915.

CHRISTMAS LIGHTS – It was Thomas Edison’s friend and partner, Edward Hibberd Johnson, who had the idea of stringing lights around a Christmas tree in New York in 1882.

FRUITCAKES – Everyone seems to agree we can blame the ancient Romans for this one. A recipe for a cake made from barley mash mixed with pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and raisins was found from back then.